A few years ago, before the release of Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire Stick in the UK, I bought my father an inexpensive Android TV stick to allow him to watch streaming video on his TV. I looked around a bit and came across the REKO MK803 on the popular Hong Kong import site DealExtreme, though it is currently out of stock, the REKO MK803 can still be viewed on the DX site here. Though usable, the REKO MK803 has always been a bit slow, frustratingly slow sometimes. The TV stick shipped with a slightly customised build of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, according to the system information, this particular build was from 2013 (homlet_sugar 4.2.2 JDQ39 20131021 test-keys). I bought the Amazon Fire stick for my father when it was released here in the UK, which he has been happily using since then, though he recently asked me to help him set up his old REKO MK803 on one of his spare TV’s, which I thought was long due for an update.
Searching Google for REKO MK803 will yield very little results, let alone searching for REKO MK803 update. And so began my search for updating this little TV stick. Crawling through various blogs and Chinese websites, I unsurprisingly discovered the MK803 is likely to be a rebadged version of other hardware, and that a lot of inexpensive Chinese Android hardware are very similar. This particular TV stick is based on the Allwinner A20 CPU, which is also known as the sun7i. Digging around some forums, I found that people had reported using other Android roms on different A20 hardware, be it tablet or fire stick, with success. This led me to stumble across Sunxi. In their own words:
“sunxi represents the family of ARM SoCs from Allwinner Technology, a Chinese fabless semiconductor company. Their best known products are the sunxi SoC series, such as the A10 (sun4i), A13 (sun5i) and A20 (sun7i) chips, which were very successful in the low-budget tablet market. See Allwinner SoC Family for more information on the different Allwinner chips.”
Sunxi shows various different ROMs that run on Allwinner hardware and also have flashing guides which show how to get this roms onto your device, though it is in no way associated with Allwinner. In fact they go as far to show the following disclaimer on the Sunxi site:
“Allwinner does not actively participate in or support this community. In fact, it is violating the GPLv2 license in several ways and has so far not shown willingness to resolve this.”
Reading on the Sunxi site, I found that there is a Chinese mini PC, akin to the Raspberry Pi, based on the Allwinner A20 CPU named the Cubieboard. Sunxi list different Cubieboard roms here, the latest being 1.07 from 2014, unfortunately all the links here are broken, since the Ubuntu One online file storage shut down in 2014 and even the links to Cubieboard site are dead and looking around on the Cubieboard site, they are nowhere to be found.
Digging around a bit more, I found a few sites that host the 1.07 image file (cb2-nand-v1.07_8188eu_1080P.img.tar.gz), some behind signup walls, such as Baidu, which require a Chinese mobile phone number to sign up to, and some extremely slow download links. After a few hours I finally got hold of the rom and have posted it here for now for others to grab here cb2-nand-v1.07_8188eu_1080P.img.tar.
Flashing the REKO MK803 is quite simple, thanks to the guide on Sunxi. I can confirm that their Debian/Ubuntu instructions do work on Xubuntu 14.04 64bit, though I had to restart to make the the kernel module take affect and to be safe I ran the following command again (as root) to make sure the awusb module was loaded:
depmod -a modprobe awusb.ko
After pulling the LiveSuit flashing tool from the Sunxi GitHub repository, launching the application and loading the rom, it’s time to plug in your MK803. This is tricky, but try to plug the device in (from the OTG micro USB port) to your computer while using a paper clip or something similar to hold down the “RE COVER” button on the device. You should be prompted to wipe the MK803 partition or not, at this point you may release the RE COVER button and choose, I selected “Yes” just to be on the safe side.
After this is complete, you should be ready to plug in your newly flashed REKO MK803.
After booting up the MK803, the first think you’ll notice is the Cubieboard custom Android launcher, which appears to be slightly visually broken in this build, the colours under the navigation options appear to the left of the icon and not below. Though everything else seems to be pretty close to stock Android. Initially, this build seems to be very snappy while navigating around the interface and everything seems to work fine, WiFi and the HDMI video and sound, though after booting the TV stick does state that tethering mode is enabled, which can be dismissed by turning on and then off tethering again. There is also a cell network icon in the bottom corner, which is redundant as there is nowhere to insert a sim card in the MK803, and in the settings the device is referred to as a tablet. Though the device still shows up as a SoftwinerEvb.
After installing the Google Play Store updates and installing Netflix, Plex and Eurosport, the MK803 again starts to feel slow, especially when launching these apps. I also experienced a crash and reboot of Android, similar to the original build of Android shipped on the TV stick.
While this is better for now, I have been searching around for some different Android roms to try on the REKO MK803 and will post my findings here.
Still not being happy with the Cubieboard ROM, I had search around for more compatible Allwinner A20 ROMS. Again, on Chinese websites, I stumbled across some newer Android builds for the A20 (sugar_B360-eng 4.2.2 JDQ39 20141224 test-keys) this being the latest from December 24th 2014, yet amazingly still built on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.